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May 2, 2006

Religion and Foreign Policy

Here are three (consecutive, I believe) sentences from President Bush, speaking in California last week:


A. "I base a lot of my foreign-policy decisions on some things that I think are true."

B. "One, I believe there's an Almighty."
C. "And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free."

Bush has said these sorts of things before. But perhaps it would be useful to look closely at a few of the words he uses.

"True" is not, on the face of it, an ugly word -- especially when tempered, as it is in statement A, by "I think." The problem, particularly when the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth is at stake, is how truth is determined. Statements B and C indicate that Bush sees truth not as the product of investigation, analysis or discussion but of belief or revelation. So we seem to have foreign policy based on faith. (To be fair, the United States was founded on the assumption that a few "truths" are "self-evident.")

"Free," too, is an attractive word. However, in statement C it is removed from the realm of politics and assumed -- based on belief or revelation, for how else could this be determined? -- to have been placed in "everybody's soul." Freedom here is not an "unalienable Right," like "Liberty" in the Declaration of Independence; it is an inescapable "desire." We no longer need to ask people how they weigh various "rights," whether they might upon occasion prefer tyranny to war or lawlessness, "Life" to "Liberty." We don't need votes or public-opinion surveys. We know what they "desire." We can look into their "souls."

Perhaps the most interesting word here is "Almighty." This is no mere "Creator," limited to endowing. This is not Tony Blair's God, who, along with history, will judge. Bush names a can-do Deity -- All Mighty. His God runs the whole show. That (although I am unfamiliar with the president's thinking on the question of free will versus determinism) would seem to take lots of pressure off Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. The key is not whether there really were WMDs, whether civil war was likely or how many troops should have been sent. Align yourself with the wishes of the Almighty -- and the "desire" He has implanted in "everybody's soul" -- and, in time, He'll take care of the rest.

I don't know enough about the religious pronouncements of other presidents or other world leaders. Perhaps this kind of rhetoric has not been that exceptional. However, for the man (ostensibly) running the United States today -- with its resources, with its power -- these three statements strike me as deeply, deeply disturbing.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at May 2, 2006 2:41 PM


Me too. I don't have cites to back this up but I would guess Bush's constant god-talk is unique in the Western world and you would have to go to Saudi Arabia or some third-world theocracy to hear anything equivalent.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at May 2, 2006 3:14 PM

The first and foremost problem with trying to decipher Reverend Bush's statements is whether or not he is telling the truth as he sees it.

He claims he is a born again Methodist, Mitch you should ask Tom, but as a once-upon-a-time confirmed Methodist I do not believe there is any such thing. He "belongs" to the Methodist Church to appear less evangelical IMO.

Even brushing by his image is deeply disturbing to me. For deep in my saul I am yearning to be free.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 2, 2006 6:03 PM

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